US foreign policy towards Latin America


USforeign policy towards Latin America

USforeign policy towards Latin America

Therelations between the United States and it Latin America in the 20thcentury has been influenced by numerous factors. Although it is not asignificant trading partner, compared to other economic powerhousesin the Europe and Asia, the United States has had huge interest inLatin America. Since the early 19thcentury when Latin American nations gained independence for theEuropeans, the united states adopted foreign policies that were aimedat enhancing its control and influence over the region1.This is due to political, social, security and economic reasons. Someof the most important foreign policies that influenced therelationship between the United States and Latin America in the 20thcentury, mainly between the reigns of presidents Theodore Rooseveltto Ronald Reagan include the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt corollaryand the good neighbor policy. Additionally, there are importantevents that shaped these relationships which include the constructionof Panama Canal, banana wars, Mexican revolution, Cuban revolution,cold war and war on drugs2.


Althoughits principles have become absolute, the Monroe Doctrines have guidedthe United States polity towards Latin America since the 19thcentury. It would be inappropriate to talk about the United Statesforeign policy towards Latin America in the 20thcentury without evoking the principles of the Monroe Doctrines. Thedoctrine was adopted in 1823 during the reign of President JamesMonroe where the United States affirmed its dominance in the Americancontinent. In the early 19thcentury, the influence of the European colonial powers had declinesin North and South American. During that time, Spanish and Portuguesecolonies in Latin America had gained their independence. The MonroeDoctrine main principle was that the European powers should refrainfrom interference with Latin America, and any interference would beconsidered to be an act of aggression against the United States3.The United States government adopted the policy to prevent theemergence of monarchical government in Latin America which wouldthreaten its interests in the region. This was inspired by theimpacts of the Napoleonic Wars which resulted into the establishmentof a Holy Alliance. Already, there were speculations that France andSpain could join forces to reestablish monarchical government inLatin America when France supported the establishment of a SpanishMonarch in order to gain access to Cuba. The Monroe Doctrine aimed atpreventing the emergence of European powers in Latin America. Thiswould have made American continent the battleground for old Europeanpowers. Throughout the 20thcentury, major foreign policies towards Latin America evoked theprinciples of Monroe Doctrine. Despite its persistence of its intentsand constant reference, especially during the reign of PresidentsRonald Reagan, J F Kennedy, and Theodore Roosevelt among others,there have been variations on American foreign policy towards LatinAmerica4.


TheMonroe Doctrine was a bold declaration that protected Latin Americafrom European powers. However, by the beginning of the twentiethcentury, the situation had changed, resulting into the need forchange of American foreign policies towards Latin America. Theeconomic development in the second half of the 19thcentury forced the United States to expand it wings and its newfoundpower5.The Latin American becomes an important territory for the UnitedStates, which led to the reassertion of the Monroe doctrine. Due toits strategic location and its natural resources, Cuba was attractingthe attention of imperial European powers. As a result, Cuba formedat important part of the American foreign policy in the early 29thcentury. Consequently, the United States declared Cuba a protectorateof the United States and established a military base at GuantanamoBay. The Platt Amendment of 1901 was formulated to protect Cuba fromdirect or indirect interference with its independence6.

Afterthe Venezuelan crisis of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt wasconvinced that there was an increased threat of attack and invasionof Latin America by European powers. This led to the reaffirmation ofthe Monroe doctrine. Additionally, President Roosevelt added his owncorollary to the doctrine to ensure that the principles of thedoctrine addressed emerging trends. Therefore, in addition toblockage of European expansion to the American continent, PresidentRoosevelt warned the Latin American nations from engaging in “chronicwrongdoing”7.These wrongdoings include civil conflicts and incurring large whichwould attract military intervention from the United States.Consequently, while America would not interfere with European powersactivities across the Atlantic, the United States would dominate thewestern hemisphere with no European interference. The direct impactsof the Roosevelt corollary was felt when the Dominican Republic wasinvaded by Americans due to invasive debts. Additionally, thecorollary enabled the United States to remain firm in resolve and useits naval power to protect its interests in Latin America8.


Oneof the strategic interests of the United States in the Latin Americaregion has been an American controlled canal that connects theeastern coast to the western cost. When Roosevelt became president, acanal that linked the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean wasinevitable. In the late 19thcentury and early 20thcentury, water transport had developed into one of the most importantand cost effective means of transport. However, to sail from SanFrancisco to New York required a trip of 12, 000 miles around the tipof South America. Economic prosperity of the United States needed afast and efficient water way that connected Atlantic to the Pacific.To secure the Americans, a fast waterway that allowed faster movementof naval squadron was also necessary. This led to the need for theconstruction of Panama Canal. However, it is important to note thatthe Walker Commission recommended the construction of NicaraguaCanal, although President Roosevelt was able to reverse the decisionin favor of the Panama Canal which was owned by the French. The canalhas shaped the United States foreign policy towards Latin America.However, Panama was part of Colombia, a former colony of Spain. TheAmerican government had negotiated with the Colombian government tobuild the canal but the plans did not materialize. Through the helpof the United States, a separatist movement was able to establish anindependent republic of panama which facilitated the construction ofthe canal9.


Inthe second decade of the 20thcentury, the United States had a delicate balance in its relationwith Latin America when the Mexican Revolution emerged. Analysts haveargued that the United States adopted an inconsistent policy towardsMexico during the revolution. Initially, the American governmentsupported the ruling regime in Mexico but rather repudiated them. The American foreign policy towards Mexico during the revolution wasinfluenced by the Mexican American War. To avoid similarconfrontations as well as regional political and economic factors,the Americans adopted a foreign policy that supported the rulingregimes in Mexico. This was irrespective of whether they attainedpower legally or illegitimately. Although they did not intervene inthe conflict, President William Howard Taft sent American military tothe Mexico border. The American government warned the Mexicansagainst endangering the lives of American citizens and theirproperties in their territory. Since the revolution had emerged as aresult of a political process, the president argued that interferingwith the unfolding event would result into interfering with politicalprocesses in Mexico10.

Althoughthe foreign policy towards Mexico during the revolution may seeminconsistent, this was the pattern throughout the 20thcentury. During the revolution, the United States government seemedto be sympathetic with the winning faction of the conflict. Thus,although the United States supported the ruling regimes at thebeginning of the revolution and played a huge role in itsinstallation, it turned against it when it adopted policies thatthreatened American interests. Henry Lane Wilson, the ambassador ofthe United States to Mexico supported Francisco Madero in 1911 afterhe was elected president. However, the same ambassador supportedVictoriano Huerta to oust the elected leader. The foreign policies ofthe United States towards Mexico become more complicated when the newpresident of the United States, Woodrow Wilson decline to recognizeHuerta administration. As a result, a military intervention led tothe installation of Venustiano Carranza as the president of Mexico11.


Bananawars are one of the most important United States foreign policytowards Latin America, especially in the early 20thcentury. It refers to military interventions by the United States inthe Central America and Caribbean after the end of Spanish AmericanWar and the commencement of the Good Neighbor Policy. The banana warswere aimed at preserving and protecting the interests of the UnitedStates in the Latin American region following the exits of theEuropean powers. Over the years, Central America and the Caribbeanislands has attracted the attention of global powers due to its richagricultural land. After the exit of the Spanish, following theirdefeat by American in 1898, American companies such as United fruitCorporation developed massive commercial interests in the LatinAmerican regions. The region supplied the American markets withbananas, sugarcane, tobacco and a wide range of agriculturalproducts. Although the American interventions were perceived to be inthe interests of the Latin American countries, the Americansintervened to protect its interests12.

TheBanana Wars and related foreign policies had far reaching impacts onthe Latin American region. The wars led to the independence of Panamafrom the Republic of Colombia, which necessitated the construction ofPanama Canal and Americans control over Panama Canal Zone. As aresult of the wars, Cuba remained a United States protectorate until1934. In Honduras, the United States was able to protect itsinterest, especially the banana export markets which were controlledby American companies. Additionally, the Banana Wars influencedAmerican Mexican relations during the Mexican Revolution. Mostimportantly, majority of Latin American countries, especially therelatively small nations were dominated by the United States foreignpolicies during the Banana Wars period. The coercive foreign policieswere initiated by the Roosevelt Corollary as well as the DollarDiplomacy foreign policy that was adopted by William Howard Raft13.

Goodneighbor policy

Although the United States had adopted isolationist policies, throughthe Monroe Doctrines, it maintained a foreign policy that protectedits interests in the Latin America. However, the good neighbor policyadopted by President Franklin Roosevelt administration transformedthe relationship between the United States and its neighbors in thesouth. Although the policy was implemented in the 1930, sentimentsthat supported non interventionist policies in Latin America emergedin the 19thcentury. The main rationale of the policy was to foster goodrelationship between the United States and its neighbors. PresidentFranklin Roosevelt was convinced that military interventions in LatinAmerica was unpopular and time had come when America needed to shiftto more democratic methods of maintaining its influence in LatinAmerica. To maintain it influence and protect its interest in theregion, the American government adopted a foreign policy thatpromoted pan-Americanism by supporting popular leaders, establishingstrong security infrastructures, preventing political subversion andpromoting social and economic development. The adoption of the policymeant that although the United States would monitor the event inLatin America, it would use nonmilitary and peaceful interventions14.

Althoughthe good neighbor policy became official in 1934, during the reign ofPresident Franklin Roosevelt, some analysts have argued that thepolicy could have been adopted during the reign of President HerbertHoover. Soon after 1928 general elections, President Hoover duringhis official trip to Honduras, he hinted for a foreign policy thatwould promote good neighbors relations. The new policy was aimed atrestoring the relations between the United States and Latin Americancountries which has declined due to military interventions policiesadopted by the United States15.As early as 1930, the State Department has retracted TheodoreRoosevelt Corollary in the Monroe Doctrines through Clark Memorandum.When Franklin Roosevelt took office, he was determined to med thehostile relationship with the south by adopting a foreign policy thatcould promote cooperation for mutual benefits. This led to the Hullpolicies which aimed at creating good neighbor relationships.However, the benefits of the good neighbor policy were short livedbecause in the post war era, new economic structures emerged whichdistorted the economic relationship between the United States andLatin America. The United States became more engaged in globalaffairs after abandoning its isolationist policies16.As a result, foreign relations with more developed industrial economywas considered to be more important that Latin America. As a result,Latin America was ignored since it was a mere supplier of tropicalfood products and raw materials.

Cubanrevolution and cold war era

Thecold war had huge implications on the United States foreign policies.After the Second World War, the United States emerged as a globalsuperpower, which increased its presence in global affairs. Thisaffected how its relationship with Latin America. One of the mostimportant events that shaped United States foreign policies in LatinAmerica was the Cuban revolution. Before the revolution, the UnitedStates government supported the authoritarian regime led by FulgencioBatista. The armed revolution which was led by Fidel Castro led tothe establishment of socialist state in Cuba. Immediately afterCastro assumed power in Cuba, it was in the best interest of Americato adopt a foreign policy that recognized his leadership. However, itbecame clear that communism was inevitable under Castro rule, whichwas a turning point in the United States relations with LatinAmerica. By 1960, the relations between Cuba and the United Stateshad deteriorated significantly which forced the President Eisenhoweradministration to free all Cuban assets and tighten embargos17.

TheCuban revolution and infiltration of communism in Cuba during thecold war complicated the United States foreign policy in LatinAmerica. The events in Cuba where a soviet union supported dictatoremerged into a key figure in Latin America increased concerns overcommunism in the region. It is important to note that the LatinAmerican region was relatively poor which increased the likelihood ofsocialism tendencies. Therefore, although the United States hadadopted a good neighbor policy, interventions due to the increasedthreat of communism in the cold war was inevitable. For example, theUnited States intervened secretly in Guatemala through CIA agents in1954. Using the same tactics used in Guatemala, President Eisenhowerplanned a plot to overthrow the socialistic Cuban leader, but theplan was affected during the reign of President Kennedy in 1961. Theoperation, commonly known as ‘bay of pigs invasion” involved theCIA and CIA trained Cuban exiles who were opposed to Fidel Castrorule. Unfortunately, Castro forces were well equipped by the Sovietallies which enabled them overcome the American invasion. Despite thefailed attempts to overthrow the Cuban leader, the United Statesmaintained an aggressive foreign policy against Cuba18.Additionally, President Kennedy suspended relations, both diplomaticand economic, with several countries in Latin America, which wereruled by autocratic regimes. This included Argentina, Peru, DominicanRepublic, Ecuador, and Honduras. The nuclear arms race between theSoviet Union and the United States complicated the relations betweenCuba and America. The Cuban missile crisis confirmed that theemergence of communism in Latin America was a real threat to Americansecurity. In the mid 1960s, President Johnson adopted a foreignpolicy that discriminative and aggressive foreign policies towardsautocratic regimes. As a result, there were military interventionsduring his tenure, mainly during the Operation Brother Sam in Braziland Operation Power Pack in Dominican Republic19.

1970sand 1980s

Basedon the lessons learned from the Cuban revolution and the securityimplication of undesirable regimes in the south, the United Statesadopted ruthless relations with unfriendly regimes. The United Statessponsored coups against democratically elected regimes in favor ofright wing leaders who were ready to conform to United States policyin Latin America. For example, the United States governmentsupported right wings against the elected government in Chile,Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina and El Salvador. The“dirty War” in the 1960s and 1970s changed the politicallandscape of Latin America. When President Ronald Reagan took officein 1981, despite the declined threat of communism in the south, thepresident expressed his support for the right wing regimes in theregion20.Although the Americans were faced with an increased threat due torenewal of cold war, the 1980s marked a progressive shift todemocracy in Latin America. However, the United States was also facedwith another threat from the south, which would define foreignrelations with it Latin American neighbors for the next decades, thewar on drugs. In the 1980s, the drugs problem in Latin Americaevolved into a major foreign policy issue in the United States. Forexample, the Operation Just Cause in 1989 in Panama was part of theUnited States war on drugs in Latin America21.


Esteban,Morales Dominguez and Gary Prevost. UnitedStates-Cuban relations: a critical history.Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. 2008.

Gregory,Bart Weeks.U.S. and Latin American relations.Chichester, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. 2015.

Michael,J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborlyadversaries.Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

Ricard,Serge. The Roosevelt Corollary. PresidentialStudies2006 36(1): 17-26.

Schoultz,Lars. Beneaththe United States: A History of U. S. Policy toward Latin America.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.

Stuckey,Mary E. TheGood Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of AmericanPower.Michigan State University Press. 2013.

1 Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy toward Latin America. Cambrage, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.

2 Michael, J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborly adversaries. Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

3 Gregory, Bart Weeks. U.S. and Latin American relations. Chichester, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. 2015.

4 Michael, J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborly adversaries. Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

5 Michael, J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborly adversaries. Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

6 Stuckey, Mary E. The Good Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of American Power. Michigan State University Press. 2013.

7 Ricard, Serge. The Roosevelt Corollary. Presidential Studies 2006 36(1): 17-26.

8 Ibid.

9 Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy toward Latin America. Cambrage, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.

10 Michael, J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborly adversaries. Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

11 Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy toward Latin America. Cambrage, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.

12 Michael, J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborly adversaries. Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

13 Gregory, Bart Weeks. U.S. and Latin American relations. Chichester, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. 2015.

14 Stuckey, Mary E. The Good Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of American Power. Michigan State University Press. 2013.

15 Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy toward Latin America. Cambrage, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.

16 Stuckey, Mary E. The Good Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of American Power. Michigan State University Press. 2013.

17 Esteban, Morales Dominguez and Gary Prevost. United States-Cuban relations: a critical history. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. 2008.

18 Ibid.

19 Gregory, Bart Weeks. U.S. and Latin American relations. Chichester, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. 2015.

20 Michael, J LaRosa and Frank O Mora. Neighborly adversaries. Lanham, Md.: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers, cop. 2007.

21 Gregory, Bart Weeks. U.S. and Latin American relations. Chichester, Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. 2015.